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By Bettina Weiss
September 25, 2015
Caption : Since Governor Chris Christie (R) took office in 2010, all of his vetoes have withstood the override process. On Thursday, state senators from both sides of the aisles did their best to change that track record but ultimately fell short.     

State senators from New Jersey failed to override Governor Chris Christie’s veto of the latest gun sense bill on Thursday. The bill, S-2360, “requires notification of local law enforcement prior to expungement of certain mental health records of prospective firearms purchasers.” Essentially, it would have required people who are petitioning the courts to have mental health records expunged in order to buy a gun to inform law enforcement officials so they can evaluate the requests.

Current law requires firearms sellers in New Jersey to run a background check of prospective gun buyers using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The system determines whether the person is eligible to purchase a firearm under federal and state law but does not involve law enforcement officials in the process of determining whether a mental health record of a prospective firearms purchaser should be expunged. The new bill would involve law enforcement officials in this decision.

“It’s pretty common sense legislation that no one viewed as partisan at all,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat from Gloucester County. “We all agreed unanimously that we needed to do this. Only one person disagreed.” Apparently that one Senator wasn’t alone; Gov. Christie vetoed the bill.

“I cannot endorse a continued path of patchwork proposals and fragmented statutes that add further confusion to an already cumbersome area of law,” Christie wrote in his veto message. The veto did not include language addressing the expungement process.

Democrats agree with the need to overhaul mental health laws but were disappointed and surprised that this kept the governor from signing the bill. “I was fairly shocked when the conditional veto came through. I read it. The comments in the veto made absolutely no sense in relevance to what we were trying to fix,” said Senator Fred Madden (D-Gloucester).

In a demonstration of bipartisanship, the bill had four Republican sponsors and co-sponsors, including Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick. In March, the state Senate passed the bill 38-0 and in June the Assembly passed it 74-0. However, the bipartisan effort ultimately was not strong enough to override the veto.

Democrats control the Senate, but did not hold enough seats to override a veto without Republican help. This would have been the first successful override in Gov. Christie’s tenure. Before the session, Democrats were hoping this would be the case, especially because the Republican supporters signed as sponsors and co-sponsors.

“If they reverse themselves, eventually they will have to look at themselves in the mirror and explain to people who they can back away from something they supported,” Sweeney said during a Statehouse press conference.

Ironically, there weren’t any outright reversals; simply absentees and abstainers. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) and Christopher Connors (R-Ocean) voted to override fellow Republican Christie, while Theresa Ruiz (D-Essex) and Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) were the only two senators absent. Two other senators, Christopher Bateman (R-Somerset) and Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) did not vote.

Despite the lack of explicit defiance, Democrats were let down by their Republican counterparts. To override the veto, 27 votes are needed to override a veto in the 40-member Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, who hold 24 seats. On Thursday, the effort fell two votes shy, with a 25-11 vote.

As bleak as it seems, there may be some hope. Sen. Sweeney refused to close out the voting and pulled the item from consideration. His determination was clear. “I am committing to you right now: be prepared to vote on this for many sessions” to come, Sweeney said.

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